Monday, September 2, 2013

Photo of the Day: The Glory of a Porch

The homes in which I have lived virtually my whole life have had front porches, yet I have seldom taken the opportunity to enjoy them. Often, it has seemed, I’ve had to be elsewhere—at work, meeting a friend, even heading out to Starbucks. 

In my later years, I’ve haven’t even been that inclined to experience them. Summer, the season when I could spend the most time outside, has not only become more uninvitingly sticky but also, consequently, more hospitable to the mosquitoes that like to pester me. All things considered, I’ve felt too often, it’s simply more comfortable to stay inside with the air conditioning.

That’s my loss. The Rev. Otis Moss III, in a sermon at the Chautauqua Institution seven weeks ago, praised the value of porches, as a kind of low-tech community-building medium:

“Porches forge community. When you have people gathering out on their porches, they get an opportunity to interact with the other community members who are walking by — an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have. Porches help you avoid getting sequestered into your own world.”

A confidence shared on a porch doesn’t have the instantly available, explosive quality of a Facebook post, and, hence, rarely gets labeled "viral.” But it’s remarkable how quickly something uttered on a porch can make the rounds.

From an aesthetic point of view, porches add to the visual appeal of a house. I can’t think of a better example than Chautauqua itself. I chose this image from among many in this upstate New York throwback to the Victorian Era, but it’s not necessarily even among the best. 

Houses like these double down, in effect, on their most prominent characteristics with upper-level porches. Yes, you will find porch sitters there with tablets and smartphones, but you’re more likely to find them engaged with a book or, better yet, conversations with each other. In the case of the latter, you’ll catch storytelling, humor, persuasion—the qualities that build a functioning democracy.

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